Broad Clyst

Positioned 4⅔-route-miles east of Exeter Central, this was one of a series of attractive stations upon the London & South Western Railway’s (LSWR) main line to Devon, via Salisbury and Yeovil. The station served the decidedly rural community of Broadclyst (one word), a village with a registered population of 2,318 in 1871, situated about 1½-miles north of the railway. In spite of the modest population, the station was equipped with substantial buildings and, comparatively speaking, a generous provision of sidings were laid at the site over time. The station enjoyed a railway career of over a century before the infamous, draconian rationalisations of the 1960s turned a once busy mainline into a mere backwater. These measures have partially been reversed in more recent times, the area having witnessed the opening of Cranbrook station — about 700-yards east of the original platforms at Broad Clyst — in December 2015, which has restored the locality’s direct rail services to Exeter and even the capital. Sadly, however, the halcyon days of double-track running between Salisbury and Exeter, with a meaningful frequency of local stopping services between the two, are long gone.

On Monday, 2nd May 1859, the nominally independent “Salisbury and Yeovil Railway” opened a single-track line between the former and Gillingham (Dorset) to passenger traffic. Subsequent extensions — also single-track — to Sherborne and Yeovil were brought into use in the following year, on 7th May and 1st June respectively. The line was worked by the LSWR from the outset and this company opened a single-track extension from Yeovil (Junction) to Exeter on 19th July 1860, a station by the name of “Broad Clyst” (two words, unlike the singular of the namesake village) coming into use at this time.

Double-track running was in operation between Salisbury and Wilton by May 1863. It was reported in the Reading Mercury newspaper on 16th May 1863 that the second line of rails between Wilton and Dinton had yet to be finished.

The doubling of the single line of rails in the Exeter and Yeovil district has been found necessary, and that portion between Broad Clyst station and Exeter is nearly completed, and the works are also in hand between Yeovil Junction and Sutton Bingham stations. [Herapath’s Railway Journal, 6th February 1864]

By summer 1865, much of the route between Salisbury and Exeter had been doubled, and work was progressing on the remaining pockets of single-track:

The second line of rails between Whimple and Broad Clyst had been opened, and the doubling of the remaining portion of the Yeovil and Exeter line between Sutton Bingham and Crewkerne was now in progress, which, when finished, would complete the double line of railway to the west of Yeovil. The Salisbury and Yeovil Company had opened during the past six months the second line between Tisbury and Semley, and the doubling of the remaining portion of their line between Salisbury and Yeovil was now progressing. [The Hampshire Advertiser County Newspaper, 19th August 1865]

Two platforms were in evidence at Broad Clyst, either side of the double-track, the latter of which, before two lines of rails were laid, would have formed a passing loop. The main station building was on the “down” side of the line and was a handsome Gothic structure by architect William Tite, who was well-known for his work on the LSWR system. The building was red brick in construction, two-storeys-high with a slated roof, frescoed at the edges with stone, and variations of the same design came into use at Whimple, Honiton, and Feniton (Sidmouth Junction), to name but a few. A 60-foot-long platform canopy was attached to the structure and, based on photographs taken from around the turn of the 20th century, this lacked any form of decorative valance. A smaller canopy also existed across the entrance to the forecourt. The “up” side platform was host to a substantial waiting shelter of masonry construction and Gothic appearance; it mimicked design traits of the main “down” side building. The shelter was also built to a standard design, virtually identical structures coming into use at the other aforementioned stations.

A huge block comprising four railway cottages was erected on the “up” side of the line, behind the platform. The cottages towered over the waiting shelter, being three storeys high with a slated pitched roof. The block of cottages was decidedly larger than the main station building and, like the latter, were of red brick construction.

In the early years, passengers used a track foot crossing between the platforms, this still being the case in 1888. However, by 1905 a footbridge had been erected at the Exeter end of the station, sandwiched in-between the station buildings and road bridge. The span across the tracks was of lattice metal construction; on either side, this connected to huge brick staircases situated upon the platforms.

As alluded to earlier, siding provision here was generous, lengthy pairs of tracks flanking either side of the running lines. The arrangement is best illustrated in the diagram shown on this page, rather than described word-for-word, but worth mentioning is the presence of a substantial goods shed on the “down” side of the line, north east of the platforms. Even the goods shed was built to a standard design: it was single-storey, red brick in construction, and frescoed at the corners with stone — essentially, it followed the Gothic lines of the main building. Similar structures emerged at the likes of Axminster and Sidmouth Junction.

The mid-1870s onwards was a busy period for signalling upgrades; not just between Salisbury and Exeter, but nationwide, as stations started to acquire “proper” signal boxes to replace more primitive installations dating from when lines first opened. Around this time, a signal box was constructed on the “up” side of the line at Broad Clyst, beyond the northeastern end of the platform. This was two-storeys-high and built to an in-house LSWR design, featuring timber-clad sides, a base of stone construction, and a hipped slated roof. Similar structures came into use at neighbouring stations along the route during the same period.

The London & South Western Railway have creosoting depots at Redbridge and Broad Clyst, the former being the principal one. [The Railway Magazine, June 1900]

Creosote is an oily liquid which was typically used as a preservative for timber railway sleepers. The LSWR owned a huge works at Redbridge, near Southampton, where hundreds of thousands of sleepers were treated with creosote, and a second operation was based at Broad Clyst. Tens of thousands of sleepers were brought up the Exe by boat and taken to Topsham for onward travel to Broad Clyst:

A timber vessel arrived the other day in the Bight [Exe Estuary] with 27,000 sleepers for the London & South Western Railway. These sleepers are taken over by the company at Topsham, and then pickled at the great pickling works at Broad Clyst station. Another lot of sleepers has just arrived. [The Exmouth Journal, 25th July 1908]

A series of alterations were made to numerous of Tite’s original station buildings between Yeovil Junction and Exeter, which your author has estimated to have occurred during the early 1950s. Structures at the likes of Broad Clyst, Honiton, and Whimple, originally had a roof line which was receded behind front and rear facades; however, the roof tiles were subsequently extended beyond the limits of the walls, creating an overhang. Additionally, the attractive red brickwork and stone lining was hidden under a cream layer of paint, this treatment also being applied to the waiting shelters at these sites.

Naturally, to complete the story of Broad Clyst, the years of terminal decline need to be addressed. From 1st January 1963, those former British Railways (BR) Southern Region lines west of Salisbury came under the jurisdiction of the Western Region. Then, in March of the same year, Broad Clyst — in addition to numerous other stations between Salisbury and Exeter — was listed for closure. Local services between Salisbury and Exeter — i.e. the all-station stoppers — transitioned from steam traction to diesel multiple units in November 1963. This was perhaps partly to reflect that this route was now under the jurisdiction of the WR, where steam traction was being withdrawn at a much quicker rate than on the SR, but the change was also made as a cost-cutting exercise.

For long, a permanent way depot existed at Broad Clyst, on the “up” side of the running lines, of which the earlier-mentioned creosote works formed a part. In the 2nd April 1964 edition of the Coventry Evening Telegraph, it was announced that track-making at this depot was to cease; a then new £100,000 (£2,156,000 at 2021 prices) track manufacturing plant was to be opened in Exeter. In addition to replacing Broad Clyst, the Exeter facility would result in the closure of permanent way depots at Doublebois (Cornwall), Taunton, Westbury, and Yeovil; it would occupy an area of eight acres and have the capacity to output 35-miles of pre-assembled track sections per year. The permanent way depot at Broad Clyst closed in late 1964, as a prelude to passenger services being wholly withdrawn from the site. The newspaper article indicates that the existing operations, such as that at Broad Clyst, were “temporary smaller depots”, perhaps suggesting that track-making had only been happening there for a short period (at least pre-assembled sections).

From 6th September 1965, public goods facilities were withdrawn from Broad Clyst. In the following year, passenger services to and from the station ceased, this being effective from 7th March. Withdrawal of local passenger services and a reduction in the frequency of long-distance traffic provided scope to degrade the Salisbury to Exeter route: from 2nd April 1967, single-track working formally began between Wilton and Templecombe (with a passing loop at Gillingham); from the latter to Chard Junction on 7th May of the same year; and finally the section onwards to Pinhoe (upon which Broad Clyst was situated) on 11th of the following month. The single line which passed through Broad Clyst was laid on a roughly central alignment in-between the former platforms, these of which remained standing after closure. At the time of singling, the former “up” side waiting shelter was demolished and the footbridge taken down; however, the latter’s substantial brick staircase remained in evidence on the “down” side. The “down” side platform canopy, attached to the main building, was retained after closure and singling, as was the goods shed.

By 1984, the former “down” platform had been fenced off, but the platform canopy was still standing; indeed, the main building was largely in the form in which it had closed in 1966. The all-over cream finish of the main building still prevailed, both former platforms were standing, as was the “down” side brick staircase of the dismantled footbridge. By 1998, the platform canopy had gone and the “down” side was occupied by a building firm. Approximately two years later, the former station building received substantial two-storey-high extensions either side, in addition to a renewed whitewashed finish, as part of a project to convert it into an office complex.

16th June 1949

"H15" Class 4-6-0 No. 30330 is seen approaching Broad Clyst with the 3.36 PM Templecombe to Exeter Central stopping service, partially formed of pre-Grouping compartment carriages. The two sidings to the right of the running lines were part of the goods yard; that track furthest right passed through the goods shed. The tracks to the left of the running lines served a permanent way depot — note the prefabricated concrete components in the background, to the left of the wagon, and the water tower of the same material on the horizon. © David Glasspool Collection

A fine station building, but the last trains had gone and the halcyon days were over forever. This roughly eastward view captures Broad Clyst immediately after singling of the line in 1967, when the sole remaining track was re-aligned centrally in-between the two former platforms. Redundant timber sleepers from the singling can be seen in the foreground, upon the former "up" platform. The footbridge had gone, but the remains of the "down" side brick-built staircase is still evident on the right. The platform canopy attached to the main building was formerly twice the length seen here; it was shortened prior to closure. The former station building is now occupied by civil engineering firm "JTT Contracting Ltd", in a much extended form. The washing line in the foreground likely belonged to one of the railway cottages behind the "up" platform. © David Glasspool Collection